Knowledge organisers

Knowledge organisers: what are they and what is their role in the classroom

By Joanne Starkie

16 Nov 2022


A knowledge organiser is a tool designed to clarify information, summarise and streamline the key facts of a particular subject, and encourage learners to retain this knowledge beyond the classroom.

In this blog, we will look at how knowledge organisers are developed, the role they play in teaching and learning, what they should include, the pros and cons of using them, and how Bedrock embeds knowledge organisers into our curricula for the benefit of learners, teachers and parents.

What is a knowledge organiser?

The concept of knowledge organisers was initially defined and developed by teacher Joe Kirby in 2015 whilst working at Michaela Community School. It is the process of categorising, clarifying and condensing the key facts of a particular topic and arranging the information into a user-friendly format, ideally on a single A4 page.

Kirby explains that the purpose of this tool is to “organise all the most vital, useful and powerful knowledge on a single page”, thereby providing both clarity for teachers and an effective memory aid for learners. Streamlining and sequencing the information in this way is not only designed to help learners revise for exams, but also to maximise their ability to retain this knowledge on a long-term basis.

Why are knowledge organisers a great tool to use in school and at home?

Knowledge organisers can be utilised to consolidate learning across all subject disciplines. If used appropriately, they can be a valuable tool for teachers, learners and parents, in the classroom and at home.

According to Kirby, knowledge organisers can also offer a sense of cohesion for the school as a whole if they are created for all subject areas. They can provide a useful indicator for head teachers and heads of department to see exactly what is being taught and what progress is being made in each class, as well as providing colleagues who teach other subjects an insight into the core aspects of a certain topic, if they are required to cover a lesson for example.

Similarly, knowledge organisers can offer new teachers at the school a handy overview and starting point for formulating their own lesson plans. At home, knowledge organisers can be used to help students to complete their homework and revise for exams, in addition to helping parents to keep track of what their child is learning and the progress they are making in each subject. The consistency of knowledge organisers allows learners to make a seamless transition between the learning they complete in the classroom and learning at home.

What should be included in a knowledge organiser?

The content, complexity and layout of the knowledge organiser depends entirely on the subject matter and the level at which it is being taught. Knowledge organisers grow in depth and complexity as learners get older and as subject knowledge requirements become more advanced. A knowledge organiser designed for a KS2 maths class would look very different from one that has been made for a KS4 history class, for example.

In terms of content in a general sense, a knowledge organiser could include key dates, timelines, themes, people and events, essential diagrams, formulae, processes or key vocabulary and definitions, depending on the subject. Overall, a knowledge organiser must contain all the key information pertinent to the topic and level being taught, presented in an accessible format that is appropriate for the age group and the content that is being covered.

Regardless of the subject, information contained in a knowledge organiser should be formatted in a systematic, logical and easy to follow sequence that promotes learner retention.

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What are the different types of knowledge organisers?

Knowledge organisers can be produced digitally or by hand and can feature timelines, charts, graphics, diagrams, different colours, or any other type of formatting that helps teachers to present all the key information appropriately and effectively.

It is always better to adapt your knowledge organiser to suit the content of the module and the needs of the learners you are teaching, rather than following a set template. The formatting and visual impact of your knowledge organiser will fundamentally depend on the subject you are teaching. A knowledge organiser for a human biology class, for example, could focus on diagrams of a part of the body that is being studied, accompanied by all the key terminology. A knowledge organiser for an English grammar class, on the other hand, is likely to be more text-heavy with the use of different colours and fonts to present tables containing a summary of the key grammar terms accompanied by definitions and examples.

Here are some examples of knowledge organisers that boost reading comprehension:

  • Venn diagrams
  • Sequence charts
  • Idea webs
  • Concept maps
  • T-charts

Though knowledge organisers benefit from being bespoke and suited to learners, templates can be a helpful way to access the benefits of knowledge organisers without sacrificing time spent teaching content. Download knowledge organiser templates to improve literacy.

How should knowledge organisers be used in the classroom?

Knowledge organisers are not intended to be used as a replacement for in-depth teaching, in the place of detailed lesson plans or as a shortcut for students to pass exams. Instead, when used effectively in the classroom, knowledge organisers support teachers and learners to consolidate learning, retain information, check knowledge and understanding through classroom quizzes and self-testing, and act as a useful study aid for exam revision.

Knowledge organisers are designed to help teachers promote retrieval practice in the classroom, which is the process of repeatedly recalling information via different strategies. Activities that promote retrieval practice include question and answer sessions, quizzes, fill in the blank activities or asking learners to write down as much information on a certain topic as possible. Questions and tests can be reworded and reformatted around the information presented in the knowledge organiser to check knowledge retention on a regular basis. Information can also be broken down and tested in smaller sections so that retrieval practice becomes an effective cumulative method for knowledge retention in the classroom, and the specific knowledge that is gained then becomes embedded in a student’s long-term memory in an organic way.

Knowledge organisers should be used in the classroom (and at home) as reference tools that students can return to as often as they need to for an effective means of categorising and processing key information, and as building blocks for the long-term retention of subject-specific knowledge.

What are 3 key benefits of using knowledge organisers?

1. Helps learners to retain subject knowledge in their long-term memory

Regularly recapping, revisiting and reassessing the information contained in knowledge organisers not only helps learners to revise for exams, it also supports long-term retention of knowledge that lasts far beyond the lessons and assessments.

2. Provides support for teachers when teaching a topic

Using knowledge organisers in the classroom helps teachers to maximise learner retention in class, provides a starting point for a variety of homework tasks and classroom activities, and provides a useful framework for teachers who haven’t taught the topic before.

A great starting point for mapping the vocabulary of a new subject is to utilise Tier 3 vocabulary knowledge organiser templates:

3. Helps learners to make connections between different lesson content

Presenting all the key information on one page helps learners to establish how facts, dates, people, themes, processes, and so forth, are connected. This can facilitate a deeper understanding of the subject matter when the topic is taught and studied more extensively.

What are 3 potential downsides of using knowledge organisers?

1. Difficulty in knowing what to include and how to present it

Being concise while still conveying all the relevant information is a difficult balancing act. This can leave teachers unsure about what to include, what to omit and how the information should be formatted on the page for maximum impact.

2. Learners may not develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter

If they are not used appropriately, some learners could risk becoming over reliant on knowledge organisers and they may not develop a deep enough knowledge of the more detailed subject matter as a result.

3. They may not be appropriate for all learning styles

Students who favour auditory or kinaesthetic learning styles may not benefit from using knowledge organisers to the same degree as their peers who learn best through reading, writing, or visual stimuli.

How are knowledge organisers embedded into Bedrock’s curricula?

Bedrock’s digital knowledge organisers are designed to complement the hard work being done by teachers, further enhance learner retention of subject specific knowledge, celebrate key milestones and successes, and enable parents to stay involved in their child’s learning at the touch of a button by automatically updating progress.

Our knowledge organiser works by systematically sorting, classifying and separating different words, skills and topics into their own distinct tabs. This makes it very easy for learners to stay on track and for teachers and parents to monitor progress and enjoy watching learners grow in confidence as they advance through their learning journey.

Bedrock’s integrated knowledge organisers are also designed in a way which encourages learners to take ownership of their learning outside the classroom and to appreciate the immediate, tangible benefits of their own hard work each time a task is completed. When used to complement progress that is being made in the classroom, Bedrock’s knowledge organisers help learners to stay motivated, to maximise their long-term retention of knowledge, and to remain fully in tune with their own learning and accomplishments.

In summary

When they are constructed efficiently and used appropriately, knowledge organisers can be powerful tools for consolidating learning in the classroom, promoting independent learning at home, revising effectively for exams, and retaining knowledge on a long-term basis. Knowledge organisers, however, should not ever be used as a substitute for detailed lesson planning or in-depth curriculum delivery, nor should they be seen by learners as a quick fix for exam success or a replacement for developing a deeper knowledge of the subject matter.

Overall, the process of bringing together all the key information on a particular topic or module and presenting it in a systematic sequence and digestible format complements classroom learning and helps learners to understand the connection between key facts. It also offers a useful snapshot for other teaching professionals of the key themes and topics that are being taught in a specific class and provides a benchmark for parents to monitor their child’s learning journey. Digital knowledge organisers incorporated within innovative educational technology can further increase each learner’s ability to process and retain information by providing a clear and concise system for categorising and clarifying all the new knowledge that is introduced to the learner.

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